“A huge part of healing is helping others, I believe in that”, Selena Gomez tells me with genuine humility. She’s wearing a plain black sweatshirt, her short brown hair swept off her make-up free face by a simple black headband.
It seems straightforward enough, but I know that what she’s saying is anything but. As a fellow Latina born into my own set of trying circumstances, I understand that such clarity is hard won. It’s usually born of having experienced the unimaginable. Of being cracked open – and softened – by real, unadorned pain. Pain that is sometimes reinforced by being underestimated at every turn, even when you think you’ve already proven yourself. And it comes from understanding that if you’re willing to then be vulnerable about that pain, it can foster connective tissue with complete strangers. Selena knows this too.
Over the last ten or so years, Selena has had a kidney transplant, been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, endured the dissolution of a relationship dissected worldwide, battled lupus, and sought treatment at a mental health facility – and that’s all on top of the normal ups and downs of fame, which include a head spinning dichotomy of love and adoration from fans and supporters, as well as trolling and shaming across social media and the internet. It’s more than many experience in a lifetime, let alone before the age of thirty and under a microscope. Even for someone who has been in the entertainment industry since she was a young child, living through all of these things publicly couldn’t have been easy.
Because many of Selena’s personal and health struggles have played out on the world stage, her formidable accomplishments run the risk of being overshadowed by her persona. To be clear, at age 31, Selena is a singer, songwriter, philanthropist, and beauty mogul. She’s the most followed woman on Instagram with 429 million followers. She’s a multi-platinum pop star who has been named to the Time 100 list of Most Influential People in the World, and currently appears in Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building with Steve Martin and Martin Short, for which she’s been nominated for a Golden Globe. She co-hosted the first-ever mental health youth summit at the White House in 2022. Not to mention her behemoth mission-driven cosmetics brand Rare Beauty, which has exploded in sales and influence and is sold at Sephora in 36 countries and on its website.
As I wait for Selena, I look over at the rosy mauve lotions, body mist, and aromatherapy pen on the table next to me that her team sent over – a brand new line of Rare Beauty products so sought-after (and that sell out so quickly), I had to sign an NDA just to receive them ahead of their release. The words “Find Comfort” are written in the space usually reserved for words like “Age-Defying.” It strikes me as an interesting naming choice for lotions and body mist.
Sticking with the ethos, I start our conversation by sharing with Selena that I’m an author, not a journalist, an admission that immediately elicits a wide smile and eager nod. Over the course of our conversation, we weave in and out of serious and light topics with the ease of two people who have learned not to sweat the small stuff. How are her thirties different from her twenties? “I’m an early bird now,” she says, furrowing her brows. Her new line of products for Rare Beauty? “It’s about mind, body, and soul”. How’s her dating life? “I’m really good at being single,” she laughs. And we touch on philanthropy, healing, and music, which I’ll come back to later.
Yet regardless of where our conversation veered, there was a recurring theme that revealed itself in all of her answers: the power of being seen. It’s a curious focus for someone who has been in the limelight since she was ten. But being watched and being seen are two very different experiences, particularly for the person on the receiving end.
I remember Selena as a child, when she played Gianna on the television show Barney & Friends. My kid sister was obsessed with Barney, and I’d often join her on the couch to watch the show together. Selena stood out even then because of her natural camera-ready smile. To my little sister and me, her life seemed so charmed. When I share this with her, Selena closes her eyes and shakes her head, as if to quickly dispel any assumption that she’s lived the perfect life. “That was license to make fun of me throughout all of fourth and fifth grade,” she corrects. What would she tell herself back then if she could? “You’re doing something fun. Don’t worry about other people,” she says. It’s an easy recommendation to make in retrospect, but near impossible in the moment. Yet it is a mantra that Selena would uniquely need as she navigated her way from child star on Barney, to Disney, to music, to documentary filmmaking and mental health advocacy. And now to beauty mogul.
“People who get recognition [young]…it can sometimes stunt your growth a little bit mentally,” she says. “I think it definitely stunted my growth for a while.” She talks about challenging the pitfalls of becoming “stuck in a moment” by doing things that were just for her, taking breaks, and going away. But at the time, even the simple act of taking a walk through the forest meant having four security guards behind her. The effects of years spent as a child actor surrounded by adults and later, the focused attention and recognition that came in her early teens, all soon came to a head.
By now, most are familiar with her celebrated documentary Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me. Released in 2022, the film followed Selena as she battled with a then-undiagnosed mental health crisis – in vivid, and sometimes heart-wrenching, detail. My Mind & Me doesn’t come across as the result of a strategic brainstorm about what made the most sense for her career at the time. To the contrary, while watching the documentary one has the impression that it’s all coming together in real time, a sentiment that Selena herself confirms. When it comes to going public about her mental health struggles at the time, she says “I kinda was forced to do it. And I’m glad. It’s not that I was ever ashamed, it’s just that I didn’t really know what was going on, so I didn’t want to talk about it.” At the time, she decided to enlist the guidance of professionals, focus on herself, and find a path forward.
Most people who seek help for their mental health have the luxury of privacy and discretion. It’s such a critical component of recovery to have the mental and physical space to focus on just getting well. Yet having one of the most recognizable faces worldwide meant that Selena had the unfortunate reality of being denied that privilege. And it made her healing journey all the more challenging.
The news got out while she was still mid-journey, and the media had a field day. The projection of shame and stigma that can surround mental health – both subtle and not-so-subtle – reared its ugly head on a global scale. But it was too late. Selena’s personal evolution had reached a milestone, and she knew that she had no reason to feel ashamed anymore. This time, Selena was ready to stand up for herself and for everyone else whose mental health struggles had been twisted into a false narrative that was disempowering.
“That’s when I was like ‘I’m not ashamed I sought help. I’m not ashamed that this is what I’m walking through so I’m going to take my power back and I’m going to tell them the story.” With a self-assured smile she adds, “In a way it was a little nudge. I wanted people to know the truth.”
Many people who struggle with their mental and physical health point to feelings of loneliness and isolation as being some of the hardest aspects to cope with. Selena is no stranger to feeling singled out by the random unfairness of it all. When discussing her diagnosis with lupus and her subsequent kidney transplant, she recalls thinking “Why God…why me”, adding “there’s moments of feeling like ‘Why did I deserve this?’” After wrestled with these initial feelings, she points to a life-changing realization she came to while visiting a hospital one day, something she often does while she’s on tour.
Selena was in the hospital room of a little boy who had lupus. Even though he had previously said he wanted to meet her, now that she was just inches away, he refused to look at her. Nothing Selena said was helping, not even talk of baseball or the bat he kept by his bed. Then the boy’s mother told him that Selena had lupus too. The boy immediately abandoned his disengaged posture and looked up at her for the first time, eyes wide. “You do?”, he said incredulously. “How did you do it?”. He felt seen, she could feel it. Selena was holding back tears.
That moment had a profound impact on her. She thought, “Wait a minute. Maybe that’s why I went through everything. So I can sit down with someone and not just be like ‘I’m here to make you feel great because it’s me.’ It’s someone that can sit down with them and say, ‘hey, me too,’” she explains. “It made me realize that my mission was much bigger than me having some health problems.”
As a breast cancer survivor who also documented her own medical journey on film, I nodded enthusiastically. These relatable experiences are incredibly powerful for building connection and for helping us all feel less alone. Yet when you’re Selena Gomez, how do you scale this feeling of “being seen” so you can reach as many people worldwide as possible? Enter Rare Beauty and the Rare Impact Fund.
Selena is remarkably introspective and so it was safe to assume that any cosmetics brand she created would have a deeper mission behind it. Launched in 2020, Rare Beauty seeks to “promote self-acceptance” and believes in “the beauty of imperfections.” There’s a lipstick named “Kind Words” and “Stay Vulnerable” blush. Little supportive messages in a bottle. Yet what really sets Rare Beauty apart is its mission to “create a safe, welcoming space in beauty – and beyond – that supports mental well-being.” This is where the Rare Impact Fund comes in.
Prominent on the Rare Beauty website, right next to the “Shade Finder”, lives a tab that leads to Rare Beauty’s social impact arm. The Rare Impact Fund is aligned with Selena’s personal mission as a mental health advocate to reduce stigma around mental health and provide access to resources, an effort she calls the most important thing she’s ever done. When she talks about it, her eyes light up. “It’s something I can continue to do for a long time,” she says.
Rare Beauty has committed to donating 1% of sales to Rare Impact in support of mental health organizations around the world, with the goal of raising $100 million in ten years to address youth mental health. In addition, the Fund works to actively demystify mental health with articles, resources, and events that seek to not only educate but also provide comfort, solace, and camaraderie. It’s a cause that is deeply personal to Selena and one gets the impression that Rare Beauty could not exist without Rare Impact. “We wouldn’t be anywhere without our community,” she says.
I share with Selena that when I was on the Rare Impact page, I was drawn to one article in particular. Anxiety 101. Clicking on the article, I found an easy-to-understand breakdown of the different types of anxiety disorders, symptoms, a description of how one is diagnosed, types of treatment, and the phone number for a help line. I told her that it had taken me years of panic attacks in high school and college to learn the name of what was going on with me. The fact that young women can now shop for lipstick and, on the same website, access resources on anxiety – with no shame – is noteworthy. That it’s Selena directing them to those resources is a full circle moment.
“Taking care of yourself is something that was very challenging for me to do for a long time,” she tells me unprompted, “and its something that has helped me find a routine to help me center myself.” She says she’s become much better at “self-comfort” and “not letting people bust my bubble.” She no longer feels the pressure to be a perfect person and wants to help others on that same journey. Selena, who only uses Rare Beauty products, says that she hopes this new line will promote the idea of “knowing who you are and just what your body needs.”
Jumping right to the stigma, Selena calls out the negative connotations that are often associated with having mental illness and challenges the notion that there is any reason to suffer in silence. Once she received her bipolar disorder diagnosis, Selena felt she finally had an answer and could then dive into learning how to manage it. She was overtaken by a sense of community, knowing there were people all over the world going through the same thing. “It gave me comfort, no pun intended, because I felt like I wasn’t the only one.” It was yet another illuminating realization for the multi-hyphenate actress, singer, advocate, and businesswoman. And true to form, one that she wants to share with others.
Rare Beauty’s customers are on board with that message. With 6.4 million followers on Instagram, it is amongst the world’s most successful celebrity makeup brands. Sales of Rare Beauty in 2023 exceeded $300 million, which was more than triple of what it earned in 2022. Selena has cultivated a customer base that is loyal and engaged. More importantly, they trust her. The power of that trust can’t be overstated when it comes to walking her community through the often confusing process of considering what might be at the root of their emotional pain. When reflecting on her journey, Selena highlights the profound impact that naming one’s own mental health struggles can be. To do so “give[s] you a sense of power.”
Given how life-changing she found her own mental health diagnosis to be, I ask her if she feels a responsibility to lead others to the same discovery. “The encouragement part is to just find out, even if it’s for yourself. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be anyone’s business, but it does give you a sense of power when you’re like, ok, I know this is what I’m walking through so let me figure out what I can do to make myself better.” Does that sometimes come with a sense of pressure to connect these dots for as many people as possible? “I don’t feel pressure. I just feel relief that I can hopefully help someone feel seen and heard.”
In fact, it’s what she told me she’d like the continued focus of her philanthropy to be, especially once her life slows down a bit. Selena’s hope is that the same way a young woman can count on the infrastructure of a place like Planned Parenthood to meet their needs around reproductive health, so too can something similar exist for mental health at the same scale and brand awareness. She envisions “a crisis center where if someone is in trouble and they are feeling alone, I want there to be a place for them to go.”
Selena is realistic about the fact that not everyone has family or friends who are accepting, or the resources to see dedicated mental health professionals, and that’s why she wants to help create that space. It’s an admirable cause, although by the looks of it, her schedule won’t be opening up anytime soon. In fact, Selena’s life is about to be busier than it has been in a long time. She’s about to release her first album in seven years.
In speaking her truth, Selena feels seen now. She feels heard. It’s an emotional experience so visceral, it’s no wonder that all of her hard-won confidence and equilibrium is spilling over into her music. In many ways, she’s been liberated from the feelings that once held her back and lucky for us, that’s going to make for one great pop album.
Freedom. That’s the overarching theme. From what, I ask. “From the shackles of my 20s,” she says.
Seven years is a long pause between albums, yet there is a reason why it took Selena that long to make new music. “I had nothing to write about because I’m so used to writing sad girl music. And I love me a sad girl song. But I wasn’t walking through something that I felt was ripping me apart.” She realized that the songs that were coming out of her were happy and encouraging. Switching gears, she decided, “I want to try to find ways to make great pop music with a message that actually means something.”
She points to one unreleased song in particular that is about knowing yourself and how great it feels to walk into a new space like that. Genre-wise she refers to her new album as a “true pop record” that’ll make you want to dance. And for those who loved the song “Good For You”, myself included, she promises a moment of R&B. Recording this time around? “It’s so fun…it is different going into the studio and you’re like ‘let’s party.’” Night and day from the experience of recording “Lose You to Love Me”, which she says took forty-five mins to an hour to write but was so emotional to sing, she had to leave the studio. And while she now refers to recording that song as therapeutic and beautiful in its own way, Selena’s in a new place now. “When people listen to [the new album], whether they like it or not, I hope they’re like ‘she sounds really happy’.”
“I have not written a single sad song for this album,” she adds triumphantly.
For Selena, there is something palpably liberating about being able to express her most authentic self through an album made up of entirely uplifting songs. It’s yet another symbolic milestone in the life of a woman transformed by having faced and overcome so many challenges, emerging more confident and sure of herself on the other side.
And what about the song “Single Soon”, released summer ‘23, that some took to be a coded message about her personal life? Selena says she meant it to be fun and stresses that it is in no way about hating on men. She also adds that it’s not representative of the whole album.
Before our conversation, I had expected Selena to be guarded but instead, I encountered a woman who was open and comfortable with the question marks that still exist in her life. When asked where that comes from, Selena was resolute, “I am a huge believer that every single thing in my life happens for a reason…I always try to say ‘what’s the lesson here. I want to learn the lesson and I want to grow from this’, and I want to experience what it’s like to break through those moments that are really tough.”
In many ways, she’s practicing what she preaches to her fans and allowing herself to be seen. Admitting there are still days when she feels low and just wants to lay in bed, write a little, and watch a movie. Yet she tries to meet each day with excitement by incorporating small motivational challenges – from taking a walk with a friend to visiting a bookstore. And she’s now making herself vulnerable by choice. For Selena, this is far from a weakness. In fact, she views vulnerability as her greatest strength. “I want people to understand that being vulnerable, letting things out, really does feel amazing.”
As our time together comes to an end, my eye catches the Rare Beauty body lotion on the table next to me once again. The words “Find Comfort” take on a different meaning after everything Selena has revealed. It’s clear that finding and giving comfort are what she wants most now. For herself and for all of us.
“I love the name,” she tells me, “because basically that’s just an extension of what my makeup is hopefully meant to be doing for people. Making them feel comfortable in their skin.”
Last question, I tell her. How do you find comfort these days?
“I find comfort in helping other people, and I also find comfort in just having one person around me that gets it. That knows what I’ve walked through.”
One might say Selena’s now become that person to millions of young women. How does that make her feel?
“That’s the biggest gift I could ask for.”